by Laurie Gudim
Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely: We bless your name for inspiring Johann, George, and Henry and all those who, with images and music and words have filled us with desire and love for you; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The first time I listened to Handel’s “Messiah” from beginning to end was around forty years ago. It was raining outside, and I was laid up with the flu. I don’t remember why I chose this music, but it had a profound effect on me. I came away celebrating Christ’s triumph over death and God’s fathomless love for humankind. I was moved to choose a spiritual discipline, the Practice of the Presence of God, and to give it a go as part of my daily routine. Spotty at best, this discipline was nevertheless the beginning of my active involvement in my relationship with God, and has been a bedrock I have returned to time and again.
I am happy, therefore, to be celebrating today the lives of three great composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel and Henry Purcell. These men were not only incredible musicians but theologians as well. In their work they testified to God’s presence in and love of the world, and to Jesus Christ, the salvation of humankind. How many people have they inspired over the centuries, and how many more are to come?
How do we testify to God’s creative abundance and boundless compassion? We each must find our unique way. For without us speaking our truth, Christianity is misunderstood and dismissed. The more progressive understandings of the Holy have no representatives. We do not throw out the lifeline of our convictions to those who are drowning in the ennui and cynicism of the contemporary, godless world.
Celebrating our writers, muscians and artists gives us a way in. We can talk about them, we can allow ourselves to be inspired by them, and we can introduce others to their theologies. Handel, Bach, Purcell, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Hildegard von Bingen, Salvador Dalí, Freda Kahlo – the list is endless. Do your children know that your favorite artists are people of faith? Do your grandchildren and their friends appreciate what they were saying with their art? How does your own theology compare? Can you talk about that with your friends?
We can also create our own meaningful expressions: paint, write our stories and memoirs, sing our songs. The Gospel reading for today is from Luke 2:8-14. An angel of the Lord is visiting the shepherds to proclaim the birth of Jesus. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” Blessed are all of us who proclaim the good news, inspiring desire and love for God in those who hear and see.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.